The Bottom Line Staff Report
Santa Barbara’s very own New Noise Festival hit the compact streets of the Funk Zone last Friday night, with events extending throughout the weekend. The seventh annual festival kicked off with a new music showcase featuring The Soft White Sixties at Velvet Jones, which also hosted a turbulent Saturday evening of hardcore punk and hip-hop featuring the Newark, New Jersey outfit HO99O9, whose sound mixes together the two genres. Sunday night featured local ska-punk heroes Mad Caddies, as well as “vintage reggae revivalists” The Expanders, the ska-infused sound of The Upbeat, and local ska singer-songwriter Spencer the Gardener. The headlining event, however, was the Saturday evening block party featuring Unknown Mortal Orchestra and STRFKR. Although the festival remained relatively small-scale, it was nothing short of a success.
Soft White Sixties
The Soft White Sixties headlined the first night of New Noise Festival last Friday at Velvet Jones in downtown Santa Barbara. The band came on at 10:30 p.m, but they were not the only musicians playing on Friday night as Young Million, Dot Plaza, Shadow the Wild, and Will Ridge helped the New Noise Festival start off with a bang. Young Million’s music, melodic and upbeat, mirrored Fall Out Boy, while Shadow the Wild sang slower, but nevertheless very catchy, songs.
Dot Plaza started it off with some electronic alternative, aided by exceptional instrumentals parts, especially from the pianist and guitarists. Will Ridge got the crowd going with a country, folksy sound that his masterful harmonica playing escalated. Overall, the opening acts gave a good blend of pop, rock, and folk that warmed the audience perfectly to the alternative style of the Soft White Sixties.
The Soft White Sixties concluded a great night of music by singing from their album Get Right, with some of their better songs being “Sorry to Say,” “Miss Beverly,” and “Follow Me.” With a style similar to the Arctic Monkeys, with slow but catchy tunes led on by rhythmic choruses, The Soft White Sixties showcased their full arsenal, from catchy, alternative numbers such as “Don’t Lie to Me” to a more folksy sound, such as on their song “I’m Not Your Mother.” The leading singer, Octavio Genera, moved around the stage with moves that reminisced of a combination of Elvis and Michael Jackson.
The Soft White Sixties have been together since 2010, and their EP, The Ocean Way, will drop Dec. 12. Don’t be surprised if you hear more about this band for years to come. Their soulful, catchy, and compelling music can be found on Pandora and Spotify and will be finding its way onto radio waves very soon.
Saturday’s events began with a performance by Los Angeles band KOLARS, a self-described “glam-a-billy” act comprised of husband and wife power team Rob Kolar and Lauren Brown. Nailing down a distinct name for the one part guitar/vocal, one part drum/tap dance ensemble is difficult to do; The dynamic duo is eclectic in every sense of the word. Kolar, who can only be described as a cosmic Elvis, sang with gusto while his counterpart provided the raw power that kept their steam engine sound chugging along. And with a musical style ranging from what they term “Desert Disco” to “Space Blues” (which is just as entertaining as it sounds), there was never a dull moment on stage.
Both performers were dressed in full regalia to match their avant-garde brand of pop: Kolar with his black-and-white striped getup, and Brown with her mod twist on a 1920’s flapper girl. Whereas Kolar generated power with roaring vocals and spirited guitar-playing, Brown used her entire body as an instrument, tap dancing atop a bass drum while playing a stand-up drum kit, so that each beat of the drum was an expressive extension of her motion. Together, the two are larger than life.
They performed songs from their debut album, which is set to drop next year. Among them was the bright, feel-good rockabilly “Beyond the World of Man”, “Turn Out The Lights”, a darker-toned Midwestern swing number, and “One More Thrill”, a particularly explosive track featuring Kolar’s powerhouse vocals and Brown’s creative use of tap dance in order to create a beat.
Just as the the sun was setting, Night Riots, a local favorite from San Luis Obispo, came out to play. Night Riots (originally known as PK) meshes sounds of ‘80s new wave and indie pop anchored in punk rock, creating catchy, danceable tunes with just a hint of a dark undertone. The band as a whole was extremely charismatic. Lead singer Travis Hawley was particularly effective in evoking a positive response in the crowd. His fluid, energetic movement, coupled with his clear, focused vocals made full use of the space. He treated each song as its own odyssey, using every bit of his energy to fully explore it while practically feeding off the energy of the crowd.
Although the band played many of their more formulaic hits, such as “Contagious,” they sprinkled their set with symphonic guitar duets and the occasional spontaneous drum circle. In addition to old favorites, Night Riots performed songs off their newest album Love Gloom, released only the day before. Their new material showcases a versatile style that has steadily expanded beyond the repetitive simplicity of past days. “Breaking Free”, in particular, gave off a strong Killers vibe, while songs such as “Nothing Personal” are reminiscent of Depeche Mode. Overall, Night Riots was successful in providing a quality show of unrivaled energy, with a vein of theatricality running through every note.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Next on stage was the standout performance of the night, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, a band that features R&B rooted in psychedelic funk. Night descended upon the Funk Zone, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra all but disappeared from sight, backlit only by the giant swirling lights of the speakers, which served to create a wholly immersive experience. Unknown Mortal Orchestra opened with grand ‘80s-style power ballads, which fluidly progressed into trilling, dissonant jazz piano intros that might feel at home on Steely Dan’s Aja. The transformatory “Stage or Screen” served as a bridge between the band’s brand of Queen-esque melodies and exploratory psychedelic chillwaves.
One stand-alone track, “Necessary Evil”, brought out the band’s jazz roots more distinctly. The warm guitar fuzz washed over syncopated R&B rhythms and crooning, distorted vocals heard on “The World is Crowded” had the entire crowd grooving. Later in the evening, the infectiously catchy funk of “Multi-Love”’s smooth, caressing bassline and operatic synth turned the entire street into a dancefloor. Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s performance was nearly transcendental, with crescendoing and decrescendoing psychedelic waves that felt timeless.
To those unexposed to Ho99o9 (pronounced “horror”), an American heavy metal/punk hip-hop group composed of New Jersey natives TheOGM and Eaddy, their music can best be described as the child of the Mad Max: Fury Road soundtrack and Tyler, The Creator on a bad trip. They brought all of their post-apocalyptic rage to the Velvet Jones this Saturday night as the third headliner for the All Ages Club Showcases-half of New Noise Fest.
Their openers, rapper Ashe Blanco and punk band Char-man both hail from central California. While Ashe performed well, Char-man – most notable for being voted the worst band in Ojai for at least six years, probably ironically – played relatively standard punk fair. They hewed much closer to the style of music that Ho99o9 makes than Blanco, who rapped lightning speed over typical hip-hop bangers. Both performed well, but neither might have been best to perform before Ho99o9’s spectacle.
Distorted sirens and flashing lights announced the lead up to Ho99o9’s performance. A crew set up the stage and left. With a vacant set, the sounds, already blaring to begin with, gradually amplified. Eventually the group’s drummer came on stage to add his own banging to the cacophony.
TheOGM entered the stage wearing a frilly white dress, looking possessed, to shout at the crowd over heavy metal guitar chords. Eaddy lept from hiding behind an amp to add his own guttural fury, igniting a mosh pit humorously mixed of 20-somethings and the middle aged.
Much of the show proceeded in that fashion, with TheOGM becoming gradually more demented in his performance. He wandered the back of the stage as if haunted while Eaddy rapped, turned away from the audience in lunatic revelry. He used a headlamp on an unlit stage to incredible effect; in the darkness his face hovered illuminated above the crowd, contorted in an insane scowl, as flashes of light made the entire stage momentarily visible for nightmarish moments.
The scenery perfectly matched the enraged howling that characterizes most of Ho99o9’s music. They didn’t remix original songs for the performance, as some artists do, instead opting for more rambunctious drums and louder screaming. When they occasionally rapped they killed it, but they primarily stuck to the punk rage and crazy antics that first got them a spot on Rolling Stone’s September 2014 10 New Artists You Need to Know list. Ho99o9 did not disappoint with their adrenaline-fueled performance.
By the time headliner STRFKR, the solo project turned indie rock band of Portland native Joshua Hodges, ascended the stage shortly before eight, the air was thick with smoke and the excitement of an enthusiastic, primarily mid-20s crowd. They set up like a classic rock band, with two electric guitars, a bassist, and a drummer, augmented with sound boards in front of all but the percussionist.
STRFKR’s performance did not revolve around any sort of curated image of the band – it revolved around the music, a must for Hodges. Unlike many of their flashier indie contemporaries, STRFKR wore nondescript outfits, blending in with the flashing lights. Bassist Shawn Glassford strutted around the stage to his dance-y bass lines, drummer Keil Corcoran somehow wiggled to his rhythms sitting on a stool, and Hodges, STRFKR’s lead singer and guitarist, captivated the audience with his vocals. They seemed to move with the bass-pulsing lights, rather than being spotlighted by them.
Tracks from STRFKR’s upcoming album Being No One, Going Nowhere kept the mood elevated with their psychedelic disco flavor. Although loud drums, keyboard, and bass often made the singing inaudible to the uninitiated, STRFKR fans sang along with every song. The crowd, given ample space in the Funk Zone’s lovely outdoor venue, grooved along to every song. STRFKR kept the energy upbeat and the sound summery for a very enjoyable performance.
Of every performance at the Block Party, STRFKR’s garnered the most positive response, while providing the last burst of energy needed to push the crowd over the edge before the night came to a close. The dazzling light show piercing through the smoky haze hanging over the crowd seemed to send an electric shock through the sea of bodies, as the block party came to an explosive resolution.
Rebecca Lauffenburger, Jeremy Levine, and Paul Tucker contributed to this report.